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Lisette Orellana

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remember that night ten years ago: the harsh lights on the ceiling and my craving for a Big Mac despite the pain. I put on a brave face — like this was no big deal. But I was terrified. Nurses came in and out of the room. One said: "Well, this sure is perfect timing. It's Mother's Day!" That fact hadn't even crossed my mind. All I knew was that a year before then I was decorating the gym for a 9th grade dance. A male nurse drew blood and asked: "So how old are you?" "Fifteen." I can still hear him gasp. "Oh dear God! I've got a daughter who's 14. I better find out who she's hanging out with." My boyfriend stared at the floor. I felt completely alone. And I was in a lot of pain. As the hours went by it hit me: Life had betrayed me. My future was over. I was a nobody.

Twelve hours later my baby daughter was born. She had black hair and eyes and weighed 7 pounds, 2 ounces. Later that afternoon I named her Gina.

rom first grade on, I was a bookworm and a straight A student. I wanted to make my mom proud. She was a housekeeper at a nursing home and worked 12 hours a day. At night when she got home she'd collapse on the sofa. Every day my mom gave me lunch money. I'd save most of it and secretly put it back in her purse.

My older sister got pregnant when I was 10. Mom cried for days. My sister was such a pillar for my mom, but she had let her down. Mom never smiled anymore and over time she began to change. Soon, no matter how many A's I brought home, it was never enough. But I studied harder. I even took an extra French class during my lunch hour. I rehearsed French conversations in my head as I helped prepare dinner. I wanted a different life than my sister. I wanted my mom to see that I was going to be somebody.

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n tenth grade I took honors classes in everything — including math. It was challenging, but I knew I could do it. In early Fall I started feeling really sick and missed several classes. Mom took me to her doctor. They ran tests, including a pregnancy test. I wasn't worried because I had been on the Pill for a year.

A day later, the doctor called and asked my mom and me to come to his office. And that's when he dropped the bombshell: I was pregnant. I was stunned. Mom screamed and said everything under the sun. She said she'd known that I'd get pregnant. Right there in the doctor's office she told me I wasn't allowed to live at home. That night I moved in with my 18-year-old boyfriend who had dropped out of school and was living in the basement of his parents' house.

I walked the school halls in a trance. I told my best friend, who cried. She said, "How could you be so stupid? How did you let this happen?" She was hurt and confused and just drifted away. Our dream of living together in Paris was over. I barely spoke with her again that year. I hid my pregnancy for another three months and rarely missed classes, but my friend's rejection crushed me.

I was a top student.
I didn't sleep around. I was a good girl.
I wasn't like the other girls who got pregnant.
I wondered if these facts would protect me.

hen I couldn't hide my belly any longer, I told my teachers one by one. Some had been my biggest cheerleaders. Now, several suggested I drop classes right away. And a couple questioned whether I'd even finish 10th grade. No one said "You can do it. And how can I help?" I felt invisible. What about my good standing? What about my hard work? Didn't that count for something?